After a busy weekend covering The New Colossus Festival‘s fourth edition, I wound up catching a real nasty cold that has kicked my ass: I’ve felt miserable for the past four days or so. And unfortunately, because we live together, my mother caught what I had. So it sounds a bit like a sick ward here. But somehow, the show must go on, as best as it could. right?
Portland, OR-based sibling indie pop trio Joseph — Natalie Closner Schepman and her two, younger twin sisters Meegan and Allison — derive their name from two different sources: their grandfather Jo and the tiny town of Joseph, OR, in which he was born and raised. The Closner Sisters grew up in a musical household: their dad was a jazz singer and drummer, while their mom was a theater teacher. But their group can trace its origins back to around 2014: Closner Schepman, who had been pursuing a career as a singer/songwriter at the time, recruited her sisters to join her in a new project. When the Closners began working together, they quickly recognized an irresistible and undeniable creative chemistry.
The trio quickly developed a reputation for playing intimate house shows, in which they would accompany themselves with acoustic guitar and a foot drum. Within their first yet of being a group, they self-released their debut, 2014s Native Dreamer Kin, which caught the attention of ATO Records, who signed the group the following year.
After releasing 2015’s, ATO Sessions EP, an acoustic, two song, digital EP and accompanying video series, the sibling trio went on to release their Mike Mogis-produced, label debut 2016’s I’m Alone, No You’re Not, which featured the smash hit “White Flag,” which landed on on Spotify’s US Viral Top Ten Chart within days of its release. By that October, the track landed at #1 on the Adult Alternative Charts.
Building both the rapidly growing buzz surrounding them and a growing profile, the trio made their rounds of the national and international talk show circuit with appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Later . . . with Jools Holland, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Conan, CBS This Morning and Today. They also made the rounds of the global festival circuit with stops at Coachella, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Newport Folk Festival, Sasquatch Festival, Glastonbury Festival, Outside Lands Festival, Pilgrimage Music Festival and several others. And they opened for James Bay during his sold out 2016 arena tour.
2019’s Christian “Leggy” Langdon-produced sophomore album Good Luck, Kid saw the trio pushing their sound in a grittier, more dynamic direction while retaining the gorgeous harmonies and earnest vocal deliveries that won them acclaim across the blogosphere and elsewhere. “The through-line of the album is this idea of moving into the driver’s seat of your own life–recognizing that you’re an adult now, and everything’s up to you from this moment on,” Natalie Closner Schepman explained in press notes. “You’re not completely sure of how to get where you need to go, and you don’t have any kind of a map to help you. It’s just the universe looking down on you like, ‘Good luck, kid.’”
The sibling trio’s fourth official album, the Tucker Martine and Christian “Leggy” Langdon co-produced The Sun is slated for an April 28, 2023 release through their longtime label home ATO Records. The album reportedly sees the group working with a collection of new collaborators and making yet another vibrant sonic shift while retaining the craft, three-part harmonies and hard-fought and harder-won lyrical wisdom that they’ve been known for throughout their career. But unlike its predecessors, The Sun sees the sibling trio taking a decidedly more hands-on role in the production process. The result is an album of material that sees Joseph spinning incredibly complex concepts into anthemic, sing-along ready pop that serves as a backdrop for the trio’s fearless and deeply personal storytelling from each of their perspectives.
Thematically, the forthcoming album sees the trio focusing their soul-searching songwriting on the quietly damaging forces that keep us from living fully in our truth — e.g., gaslighting, cultural conditioning, unconscious yet painfully limiting self-beliefs and the like. Drawing on hard lessons from relationships and personal growth through therapy, The Sun reportedly shares stories of taking control of your own fate, making difficult decisions in the name of becoming yourself and weathering the highs and lows of love while keeping the faith — and importantly, tending to ourselves with presence and compassion. “All of our therapists were a huge influence on this album,” the sibling trio say in press notes.
Earlier this year, I wrote about “Nervous System,” a punchy pop song rooted in deep. personal experience, the rousingly anthemic, sing-along friendly choruses the trio is known for, and big-hearted, earnest compassion. Fittingly the song — and its narrator — discusses being our own lifeline during times of anxiety, struggle and uncertainty. “It’s about self regulating and tending to ourselves with presence and compassion, rather than frantically reaching outside of ourselves,” the trio explain. Alison Closner adds “I’ve struggled with a lot of anxiety over the years, at times a constant inner storm, and it’s been easy to look outside myself to feel safe and secure. I’ve fought to find my inner peace, and through that process I’ve found that so much of the time I already have what it takes to calm my nervous system.”
The Sun‘s latest single, album title track “The Sun” is a shimmering, buoyant and fittingly summery pop anthem and a righteously defiant tell-off to a relationship that has made you feel small and insignificant while recognizing — and perhaps for some, reclaiming — one’s own power, integrity and sense of self. Much like the previously released material from the album, the song is rooted in universal yet deeply personal experiences, which add to its rousingly anthemic nature.
Interestingly, “The Sun” was one of the first songs recorded for the album, and it wound up being something of a sonic breakthrough for the trio. The trio took a slowed down, serious and acoustic version of the song on the road. testing it for audiences while opening for The Shins. But when it came down to lay the track down, the song with the help of their longtime producer, became the buoyant and summery version you’re hearing now — while rooted in Meegan Closner’s own experiences of working through the lessons of a past relationship./
“Many times I have found myself in a position where I’m stuck in cycles of negative self-talk” Meegan Closner explains. “Times when I have seen myself as bad and struggle seeing any other possible truth. This song is my higher self speaking to that me. It’s me reminding myself that I am more than I think I am.”
The song’s shift into its defiantly buoyant version, mirrors the album’s underlying narrative. “The whole album is a sort of thinking through of the story that you tell about yourself, to yourself,” Joseph’s Natalie Closner says, “It’s about looking at whatever is diminishing you or making you believe in these limitations you’ve put on yourself, and then finally asking, ‘What if I’m more than that?’”
Directed by Justin Frick, the accompanying video for “The Sun” is as ebullient, joyous as the song it accompanies while capturing the Closners irresistible energy — and their profoundly tight bond. But more importantly, the video nods at the themes of the song: Meegan and her sisters are initially in various stages of shadow before being in brilliant spotlight, with the sisters boldly claiming their space.